Following the appointment of David Bernstein as the new chairman of the FA, I thought I would take a look at the job that lies ahead of him. The BBC Sport article suggests that One of Bernstein's key roles over the coming months will be to appoint Fabio Capello's successor as England manager. This seems to be the least of his worries in my opinion and over the next few weeks I will be giving my opinion on where English football has gone astray.
Perhaps I should start with the symptoms that lead me to believe there are problems. The most obvious symptom is the performance of the England national team. In the recent World Cup, held in South Africa, England reached the last 16, having qualified from their group consisting of USA (ranked 18th), Slovenia (ranked 17th) and Algeria (ranked 36th) with only one win (1-0 against Slovenia) and 2 draws. In the second round, they were found sadly lacking as they lost 4-1 to Germany. Prior to this, England failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championships, finishing behind Croatia and Russia in their qualifying group. The last time England reached the final of a major tournament was when they won the World Cup in 1966. Since then they have reached the semi-final on 3 occasions – the most recent being Euro ’96, where they again lost to Germany. Results in themselves do not tell the full story. The way the team performed during the 2010 World Cup was probably more disappointing, with fans’ reactions leading to Wayne Rooney’s ‘outburst’ after the 0-0 draw with Algeria. Alongside this were all sorts of rumours of rift between players over personal issues, most highlighted by then England captain, John Terry and Wayne Bridge’s non-handshake.
The League Managers Association have criticised what they term ‘chronic short-termism’ amongst English clubs. With high profile sackings of Sam Allardyce, Chris Hughton and Roy Hodgson in the Premier League, the latter after only 31 games (only losing 9), the pressures to win are far greater than ever before. I’ve never played football to a high level – a bit of inter-college football at university is as good as it gets. I am quite a competitive person – I’ve injured a few people in my over-exuberance – but generally I play/coach football for fun. I definitely enjoy it more if I win, but putting that much pressure on players to win does take the fun out of it. I work with ‘apprentice’ footballers and if you ask them why they want to become professionals, the majority will say for the money. Even when they have money, players want more (allegedly!)– cue Rooney for the second time! It is this financial pressure that causes club owners to prematurely sack managers in a desperate search for results. Ironically, evidence suggests that clubs are worse off after changing a manager, particularly in the short term. This same pressure means that young, home-grown players find it difficult to get a chance in any first team, particularly at a high level. Managers can’t afford to give young players the time they might need to develop and instead will buy in a player, often from overseas. At the start of the season, less than 40% of Premier League players were English, compared to over 75% of players in La Liga being Spanish. No wonder the England team can’t play together, they aren’t used to playing alongside English players!
The sacking of Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray today highlights another flaw of English football. It is possible that the comments made by Gray and fellow presenter, Richard Keys, were made in jest. It’s a common occurrence in living rooms up and down the country of men being asked about the offside rule (p31) – usually during a vital game at a crucial point! And surely the comments made about men’s inability to multi-task are equally as sexist, or equally playful? However, just because something is commonplace, doesn’t make it right. In the case of Andy Gray, there are two separate occasions where he makes this comment and he really should know better. Football should be a driving force in improving society not merely a reflection of a somewhat miserable culture. Football looks after its own and new people and new ideas are not usually welcomed. Fifa have the right idea by awarding World Cups to ‘new’ nations (although that’s a whole other debate!), although don’t seem to be willing to seriously investigate better ways to officiate games, especially through the use of technology. The FA seem equally backward in moving forward when it comes to supporting referees, with their best offering a Respect campaign that doesn’t seem to apply to the Premier League. Examples in Europe and across the pond demonstrate much more progressive thinking, with ‘soccer’ one of the fastest growing sports in USA and nations like Spain stepping up a gear in terms of international performance. In this country young footballers are still made to clean changing rooms and scrub showers – this should be a thing of the past and football in this country needs to move on.
To give it its due, English football does lead the way in some aspects. Whilst English fans are still some of the most feared across the world (a reputation that isn’t so justified anymore), racism is a thing of the past. We also have one of the best leagues in the world (despite the issues raised above), with this season being one of the most competitive ever. We have high viewing figures, both at grounds up and down the country, and on TV, and we have some of the best stadia in the world to, with development happening all the time – Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool, West Ham, Tottenham all have designs on expanding or building, this after Arsenal recently built the Emirates Stadium and of course the new Wembley. English league football has one of the longest histories and should be proud of that. However it cannot rest on its laurels, attempts must be made to drive football forward, and thereby improve the whole of British society – something football has the power to do.
As I said at the beginning, I intend to look at some different elements of English football and outline what part I think these play in damaging our ‘Beautiful Game’. I’d welcome any comments you may have (please keep it clean!).